Paris, France — A jasper head, a golden gilded bear, a mysterious marble idol are all part of one of the great collections of art, civilization and humanity that is being showcased in the exhibition galleries of the Hôtel de la Marine on the Place de la Concorde in Paris. This is a window on the civilizations of the world, a juxtaposition of what humanity can create from anywhere in any age. These are the treasures of the Al Thani Collection, regarded as one of the most prestigious and eclectic private collections in the world. Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani is a member of the ruling family of Qatar and one of the great art collectors of his generation, evident as one embarks upon a journey into the collection.
The show is being played out in four galleries in the newly opened museum space in the magnificently restored 18th century Hôtel de la Marine that is administered by the Centre des Monuments Nationaux, France’s National Center for Historic Monuments, the building was occasionally opened in the 18th century to the public to display royal treasures and is considered to be the French capital’s first museum. Entitled Treasures of the Al Thani Collection, the exhibition showcases a rich diversity of some 120 artworks emanating from across the collection and bringing together exceptional works of art from Antiquity to the 19th century.
« The Al Thani Collection looks towards celebrating, honoring and conserving the works that illustrate the high points in the artistic activity of human beings,. This inaugural exhibition brings together objects from six millennia and represents a large diversity of the cultures of the entire world inspired by a wide range of influences and beliefs. And so we can, I hope pay tribute to the universal link that is built through human creativity, » explains His Highness Sheik Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani in the preface to the catalogue of the collection.
The first gallery brings together seven masterpieces created on four continents and spanning five millennia. Among them the mysterious Stargazer, one of the finest idols preserved from Prehistory dating from circa 3300-2500 BC. The Kilia statue -named for the archeological site on the west coast of the Dardanelles where it was found — is a harmonious piece of humanity from Western Asia Minor, possibly made during the Copper Age and sculpted in glowing marble. It shares the gallery space with a magnificent Egyptian red jasper head of a pharaoh from the 18th dynasty, one of the zeniths of ancient Egyptian civilization. Other pivotal works include a rare Han Chinese sculpture of a bear circa 206 BC-25 AD, and a Maya mosaic pendant mask from 200-600 AD.
A gallery filled with interpretations of faces through cultures and ages is next on this pathway to the world. These are executed in diverse materials like chalcedony for the bust of Emperor Hadrien circa 1240. This is accompanied by, among others, a reliquary head of the Fang-Betsi people in Gabon. Made from wood and iron, it dates from circa 1700-1850. Ancient works of art in precious materials are on the agenda in the third gallery where finely crafted hard stone objects,vessels in gold and silver, jewelry and adornments all opulently convey the sense of an ancient treasury or space of a king or nobleman or community where precious and very valuable items could be kept recalling the Hôtel de la Marine’s vocation for storing and displaying royal treasures. Here one can witness a silver and gold Sasanian dish of the Neo-Persian empire, circa 300-500 AD, depicting a royal hunting scene with Shapur II wearing his official crown and drawing his bow to hunt down another animal.
Meanwhile a fourth gallery has been conceived to house temporary exhibitions and is currently displaying art from Islamic lands from the Umayyad Caliphate whose capital was Damascus to the Mughal Empire, showcasing manuscripts, metalwork, textiles, ceramics, glass, and jewelery all underscoring the rich and diverse heritage of these works of art.
“The creation within the Hôtel de la Marine, at the heart of Paris, of a set of galleries which will exhibit the treasures of The Al Thani Collection is, for both the Parisian public as well as visitors, an extraordinary opportunity. There, they will be able to discover one of the richest and most prestigious private collections in the world, until now only accessible thanks to occasional loans to a few museums or thematic exhibitions that gave no more than a brief glimpse of its riches, ” explained Philippe Bélaval, the president of the Centre des Monuments nationaux (France’s Center for National Monuments.)
For many years the pieces have been exhibited in prestigious museums throughout the world and now the collection has a home from which it will be able to host a series of permanent and temporary exhibitions drawn both from its own collections and organized in partnership with institutions worldwide, noted Amin Jaffer, the Senior Curator of the Al Thani Collection. The Collection is promoted by The Al Thani Collection Foundation, a private nonprofit organization whose core mission is to advance and promote art and culture.
©Trish Valicenti for The Gourmet Gazette
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